THE WORK OF THE WIND
We are now to study the geological work of the currents of the atmosphere, and to learn how they erode, and transport and deposit waste as they sweep over the land. Illustrations of the wind’s work are at hand in dry weather on any windy day.
Clouds of dust are raised from the street and driven along by the gale. Here the roadway is swept bare; and there, in sheltered places, the dust settles in little windrows. The erosive power of waste-laden currents of air is suggested as the sharp grains of flying sand sting one’s face or clatter against the window. In the country one sometimes sees the dust whirled in clouds from dry, plowed fields in spring and left in the lee of fences in small drifts resembling in form those of snow in winter.
The essential conditions for the wind’s conspicuous work are illustrated in these simple examples; they are aridity and the absence of vegetation. In humid climates these conditions are only rarely and locally met; for the most part a thick growth of vegetation protects the moist soil from the wind with a cover of leaves and stems and a mattress of interlacing roots. But in arid regions either vegetation is wholly lacking, or scant growths are found huddled in detached clumps, leaving interspaces of unprotected ground (Fig. 119). Here, too, the mantle of waste, which is formed chiefly under the action of temperature changes, remains dry and loose for long periods. Little or no moisture is present to cause its particles to cohere, and they are therefore readily lifted and drifted by the wind.
In the desert the finer waste is continually swept to and fro by the ever-shifting wind. Even in quiet weather the air heated by contact with the hot sands rises in whirls, and the dust is lifted in stately columns, sometimes as much as one thousand feet in height, which march slowly across the plain. In storms the sand is driven along the ground in a continuous sheet, while the air is tilled with dust. Explorers tell of sand storms in the deserts of central Asia and Africa, in which the air grows murky and suffocating. Even at midday it may become dark as night, and nothing can be heard except the roar of the blast and the whir of myriads of grains of sand as they fly past the ear.
Sand storms are by no means uncommon in the arid regions of the western United States. In a recent year, six were reported from Yuma, Arizona. Trains on transcontinental railways are occasionally blockaded by drifting sand, and the dust sifts into closed passenger coaches, covering the seats and floors. After such a storm thirteen car loads of sand were removed from the platform of a station on a western railway.